Flu Shots and the Pandemic

Flu season can be miserable for everyone. Parents have to deal with sick kids at home. Employers have to deal with employees taking sick time. Doctors offices are hard to get into for an appointment. Add in people dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. It seems more important than ever to get, and stay, educated on flu shots and the pandemic.

Many people are eligible for low to no cost-sharing vaccines, including the flu and coronavirus shots. For those who do have to contribute to the cost, flu shots are considered a qualified expense under Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). As the year-end approaches, using those funds for these shots may be a great way to spend down some of remaining balance(s).

So, who should get a flu shot? How much could it cost? Which shots are available where? How can an FSA or HSA help?

Do you need a flu shot?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 22,000 Americans died of flu or flu complications during the 2019-2020 flu season.  

For 2020-2021, the numbers were lower, but this is attributed to COVID mitigation measures. Yet even with those measures, hundreds of millions have succumbed to coronavirus.

What’s New with Flu Shots

Several things will be different for the upcoming flu season:

  • All flu vaccines will be quadrivalent. In other words, they will protect against four different flu viruses.
  • The flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccination or booster can be given at the same time, making it more convenient for busy people.
  • The Flucelvax Quadrivalent formulation is now licensed only for use with people aged 2 years and up (previously available for age 6 months and up).

Who Should Get Flu Shots?

The CDC encourages most people over six months old to get a flu vaccine every year. The people who are at high risk for developing flu-related complications include:

  • Children younger than 5, especially those younger than 2
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Persons in racial and ethnic minority groups

People with the following medical conditions should also seriously consider the flu shot:

  • Asthma
  • Blood disorders
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions 
  • People younger than 19 who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • People with extreme obesity
  • Weakened immune systems due to disease or medication

Keep in mind, there are different ways to administer flu protection and mitigation efforts. For example, those who are pregnant or have certain chronic health conditions should not get some types of the vaccines. That’s why it is so important to consult with your family doctor on the right option for you.

For those who think it will be mitigated again from protections like masks and practicing social distancing, the CDC still encourages people to get the flu shot, especially those in categories listed above. For those who are not concerned about getting the flu, the shots may be protecting those who are more susceptible to flu and flu complications from getting a serious case.

Flu Shots: Cost and Availability

Flu shots almost always are available from primary care physicians. If it’s too difficult to get there, look into local pharmacies, urgent care facilities, and major retailers like Costco and Walmart. If more help is needed, check out this flu shot locator. Due to current supply chain issues, it’s recommended that you call ahead to ensure a dose is available there.

For 2021, flu shots start at around $19.99 at Costco. In places like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and other major retailers, the price can range up to $70 for those without healthcare insurance.

Most healthcare plans cover at least part of flu shot cost. If cost-sharing is required, an FSA or HSA may let you do it with pre-tax dollars. With an account-linked benefits debit card, you can pay for it directly from your account, so you don’t have to file a claim and wait for reimbursement.

If you can’t afford any cost-sharing for a flu shot, there are free options around you. Many employers and schools offer free shots. Some local health departments and healthcare providers set up free flu shot clinics, especially in lower-income areas.

When to Get a Flu Shot

Getting a flu shot in September or October is a good goal, because it may take about two weeks before the vaccination starts to protect against the virus(es). This is especially true for populations at higher risk. It’s not too late in November or December, though. The CDC reports that U.S. flu activity typically peaks in February, and activity can continue into May.

Need More Convincing?

In a normal year, a lot of people get sick from the flu, and a significant number will die as a direct result. That may be concern enough for you, but its effects are farther reaching. The U.S economy takes a hit from flu season as well. According to the CDC, the influenza costs the U.S. around $10.4 billion every year for hospitalizations and outpatient doctor visits just for adults. Sick employees and caretaker employees cost employers millions in lost productivity. Employees who don’t receive paid sick leave lose millions in wages.

For your health, and the health of those around you, consider getting flu shots this season. It can cost little to nothing to get your entire family vaccinated and keep them healthy. With your FSA or HSA, you’re putting your benefit dollars to work.

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